Tending the Poetic Bar: An interview with Eighty Six the Poet

Tending the Poetic Bar: An interview with Eighty Six the Poet

Eighty Six the Poet is a full-time bartender and a poet. With a wife, two kids and a forty-hour work week, he’s got a full schedule, but has managed to produce several books, including two post-apocalyptic 1,000-line poems narrated by a turkey vulture (Cathartes Aura and the Apocalypse Zoo and Cathartes Aura on the Road from Nowhere) and the cocktail fiction title Inside the Skull of David Priest. Described as a day in the life of the “door-gunner of drinks,” David Priest is a semi-autobiographical character who indulges in happy hours, after hours, food, drinks, sex and drugs. One reviewer says the book is “a fantastic, narcissistic romp through a day of a bad boy all young men will want to be and all young women will want to bed.”

Find out more about Eighty Six the Poet and get in touch with the sexy and strange side of life.

Who are your favorite authors and/or influences?

As a post-apocalyptic writer, The Stand and Earth Abides have had a strong influence on me. “What would you do after the end of the world?” is a question that intrigues me. As a poet, I love Robert Frost and Shakespeare for their ability to make form feel natural. As a cocktail writer, influences surround me daily. I include scenes and sound-bites from guests and co-workers often. In truth, I have little time to read now and count it as one of my guilty pleasures. I can read 400 pages a day but would get nothing else done. Unfortunately I must choose between reading and writing. I can’t do both.

Do you have a favorite quote about writing or the writing process?

“Write a lot about a little.” Not sure who said this first. I picked it up somewhere in college.

Where are you geographically located, and does this play any part in your writing?

I have lived in Spokane, Washington for almost four years. It was a family move. My big sister moved here first and I realized I could work at a restaurant and buy a house. A single me would have stayed in Seattle. Prior to Spokane, I lived in the Seattle area and Northern California, which are both close to my heart and writing. Inside the Skull of David Priest takes place in fictional Empire, Washington, which is a city much like Seattle and Tacoma. The Cathartes Aura series wanders from the Pacific coast of Washington through Oregon to California, without specifically saying so. I like to make up my own settings, although they are always much like real places.

How has your past influenced you as a writer?

During college, writing dialogue was my weakness. I just had not seen and heard enough of the people on this planet to be able to copy them. Years of waiting tables and tending bar have filled my ears with tons of speech and my eyes with lots of body language. I am much better at describing a character with just a few words and gestures.

Pick your poison: what’s your favorite writing fuel?

Coffee, of course. Big fan of the French press. And bourbon. Good for creativity but bad for work ethic and focus. Rarely touch that marijuana anymore, but I can’t stop writing about it. Writing about David Priest, who is ripped all the time, was a bad influence on me.

Do you have any special routines, superstitions or writing exercises you like to use when getting started with a new project?

I like using a computer for writing, but I also love the feel of old-school stuff. I still use 70-page spiral notebooks from elementary school and like the feel of a good pen. I used to love fine-point roller ball pens in any color but blue, but lately I’ve fallen for the Faber-Castell PITT Artist Pen with an extra-fine point. It’s the type of pen you’d use to draw a comic book. The india ink never runs or smudges, but the tips wear out fast. I’ll need a new one soon.

I still love to brainstorm and think it’s important to fill up pages with unfiltered ideas before trying to make a polished text.

What are your hobbies or interests, outside of writing?

I love to fish. This summer I plan to get my toddler hooked on the outdoors. I play frisbee with my dog daily, otherwise he’ll chase my wife around the house all day. I love to cook.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

I’d be a bartender, of course, because the business is fun and the hourly pay is good, at the right place. As an artist, I’d be a photographer. The crusty old kind that insists on using film and dark rooms. None of this modern digital crap. That’s for vacation photos. I used to do a lot of black and white in high school and college. I would have minored in photography but my old camera kept breaking and I kept dropping classes.

If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?

Prague. My wife is Czech. We visited the country a few years ago and I almost didn’t come back. Before my bilingual kids get too old, they will go to school there. I could tend bar and teach English in Prague. If I can ever make a living writing, I’m moving there.

What are you working on now?

Three things:

  1. Cathartes Aura 3. The first chapter is on my blog.
  2. David Priest, the novel. Characters and plots are bouncing around my head, including a scene involving the “One Inch Slap.”
  3. A new post-apocalyptic novel. I love the genre as a character study. I want to build a beautiful remote tropical island nation with a screwed-up government. A history of neglect and corruption has shoved the society to the brink of collapse. One more tiny push will cause the whole place to fall into disaster. Told in first person by multiple diverse characters, rather than in third person by a distant turkey vulture. Instead of destroying the whole world, which is difficult to do even fictitiously, I want to wreck an isolated community and see how the individuals respond.

Here’s a brief sample from the book, featuring Mr. Priest getting pumped for a night at the bar:

When they drew me from the deck, they pulled the ace. I am the trump, the wild card, the read ’em and weep. Want to step to my bar? Better bring two stomachs, two livers. Best bring four kidneys. Come with your rugby team because I’m ready.

I am the spigot and the pump. The muddle and the anvil. Lemons and limes tell their kids campfire stories, flashlights under dimpled faces: “David Priest will smash you for his drinks if you’re naughty.”

Grab a copy of Inside the Skull of David Priest at Smashwords or Amazon, and find out more about Eighty Six the Poet on his blog, Eighty Six the Poet.